I find myself trying to imagine the virus, imagine myself catching it, or imagine Grandad catching, imagine him dying from it. But it’s a kind of imagining that’s hard to sustain – it feels indulgent, like a fantasy, like a depressive’s daydream. ‘Underlying conditions’ – that’s the phrase which the news reports always mention when it comes to the deaths. We have no conditions in our household, unless you count Grandad’s dementia. And in any case the illness, as opposed to its social effects, remains unseen. When I watched the news this morning the reports were all of hospital exteriors, of dry soundbites from medical advisors conveyed via webcam. The figures in hospital beds, their faces obscured by ventilators, their limbs flapping weakly as they seize in panic – that is all left to the imagination.
'Grasshopper' was written in response to events in real time with me finishing it only a couple of weeks ago. It takes the form of a woman in a remote village writing a journal which documents the moments when coronavirus creeps first through the country, then into her community and finally into her family.
Writing in this way - quickly, with ever-changing events informing the direction of the story - isn't usually my style but, like many other writers I know, I have found trying to think creatively with all of this swirling around me pretty much impossible. So it was cathartic to try to give voice to the anxieties I feel must have been fairly common over the past few months. Ordinarily, I would sit on a finished story like this for a while before putting it through the editorial process, trying to restructure the piece and smooth away the flaws. Clearly, in this instance the piece would lose some of its intended impact. My hope is that it feels authentic.
This piece was commissioned by Greater Manchester Combined Authority for their Covid-19 archive of works documenting and responding to the times we've all found ourselves living through.
You can read 'Grasshopper' here.